The Book of Deuteronomy says, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live…” This November we Californians will be given the opportunity to choose life over death. We have two propositions: Proposition 62 will abolish the death penalty whereas Proposition 66 affirms the death penalty and speeds up the process for executions. As Catholics we must always choose life: from the point of conception all the way through the natural end of our lives. In this Year of Mercy we are invited to see how our life choices not only affirm the dignity of our sister or brother’s life, but that our choice for life affirms our very own existence as a son or daughter of God.
The administration of the death penalty does not affirm the life of a murder victim. Killing in the name of one who has killed merely perpetuates violence and legitimizes vengeance. The very act of killing diminishes our own life. We therefore cannot teach that killing is wrong by in turn killing someone else. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has reflected on the use of Capital Punishment in the United States for decades. Through rigorous studies and hundreds of hours of consultations we have come to the conclusion that capital punishment is cruel, unnecessary, and arbitrary.
Research has shown that African Americans and Latinos are much more likely to face capital punishment than their Caucasian counterparts. The poor do not have the financial resources to secure specialized legal representation. Because they lack adequate defense, many innocent people are sitting on death row. A recent study estimates that 4.1% of all capital punishment defendants are innocent. Secondly, we have found that the use of capital punishment does not deter violent crime. Most criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide; in fact, the murder rate in states without the death penalty is lower than states that use capital punishment.
Our faith must be a sign of hope that lifts up not only the life of the one who committed murder, but we must be a sign of hope to those who suffer the effects of having a loved one taken from them at the hands of another. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops call on all of us to “…build a society so committed to human life that it will not sanction the killing of any human person.” We must resist the tendency to express our pain by vengeance. Our opposition to the death penalty is rooted in a vision of a criminal justice system where remorse leads to the restoration of one’s humanity and rehabilitation leads to healing.
God calls on us to choose life. And in choosing life, I ask that you give prayerful consideration to support Proposition 62 to abolish the death penalty and oppose Proposition 66 which will expedite executions in California.